15.2 Thinking About Quitting Your Job

It’s all over the news lately. The US Department of Labor reported that more workers are quitting their jobs than any time in the past 20 years. That means people are comfortable taking a risk by leaving their current employer. The stars have lined up to make this one of the best labor markets in years.

For the first time in 70 years, we are screaming towards a full employment labor market for many highly educated, high skill professionals. Settling for less in an annoying job is not something people are willing to do in a high demand situation. Workers who are working ridiculously long hours, and who are bored, underpaid, and unappreciated are highly incentivized to look for other places to work. Knowledge workers who sit in front of a computer all day don’t need to sit next to their co-workers to be productive. Technology has enabled people to work from anywhere.

I was interviewed this week by a local reporter. He asked me what advice I would give someone quitting their job. My response was: Don't … unless you have a job to move to.

It is much easier to get a job when you have a job.
In 2017 the NY Federal Reserve Board reported that people currently employed get about twice as many interviews and three times the job offers in comparison to unemployed job seekers. The study also found that those looking for work while still employed get better jobs and higher salary offers. Let that sink in.

When you analyze the data about the “higher quit rate'', things look a bit different. People are not walking out the door wholesale, across the country and across industries. Actually, some industries have very low turnover rates… I mean, really? Do you know a lot of people who are quitting jobs at Google, Apple or Intel? And the quit rates, when viewed state by state, tell a much more nuanced story. The reports out now are based on data collected in August of 2021.

Who is quitting?
Right now, the people most likely to quit are low wage workers and others seriously impacted by the pandemic – workers in healthcare and those in food services, hospitality, entertainment, and retail. (Click on these links only if you want to get down into the weeds…)

Why are people quitting?
The primary reasons people quit jobs include low wages, nasty customers, and the supply of better jobs.

For those without advanced skills or higher education, there is currently a plethora of low skill job opportunities, with employers offering higher pay and better benefits to attract workers. This is where the greatest amount of movement in the labor market movement is happening.

Should you quit your job?
People frequently call me when they are at the end of their rope. My advice is to tie a knot and hang on until you figure out a good landing place. Most of the people I work with are well educated and have significant obligations. They have high salaries and good benefits. That is a lot of economic security to just walk away from without a parachute.

Quitting a job is a huge decision and it is a jolt to the system. Being unemployed is hard on you and everyone who depends on you. It can be hard on your mental health, your physical health, and your financial stability – unless you have planned carefully.

Another factor in the equation is your age. The older you are the harder the move will be. Job changes after 50 or 55 are particularly difficult, regardless of non-discrimination laws.

The only time I encourage people to consider quitting precipitously is if they are suffering fairly constant and serious mental or physical health issues. Even then, there are ways to manage the situation temporarily, until a calculated move can be made.

How will you get your next job?
In a normal economy the average length of time it takes to get a job is four to six months. We are not in a normal economy by any stretch of the imagination. Regardless of the state of the labor market – it is not easy to get a job when you are completely unemployed.

The reality is that you will most likely get a job through a friend, a former co-worker, or a professional contact – and it is much easier for them to sell the idea of hiring you to the higher ups if you currently have a job. It takes time to get your act together with a resume, research on relevant companies, and a solid job acquisition strategy.

Before you get caught up in the frenzy and decide to make a major move, step back and take a breath. More often than not, the stress of a situation is what is triggering the impulse to quit. Impulsive moves are rarely good moves.

Oftentimes, situations are salvageable if you step back and develop a plan for improving your current job – figuring out what you want and developing a plan to negotiate for the changes you need to thrive in your current position.

I once planned to leave a job because I had a horrible boss who was engaging in the most egregious behavior. I marched into the president's office and said “I don’t care what you do, but I am leaving”. He calmly said the equivalent of “take a breath” – he said “take a leave and come back and talk to me in three months.” He made it possible for me to stay. Management sometimes does that if you are good at what you do. They know how hard it is to replace good employees.

When I made that move I had a consulting offers on the table and I had benefits through my husband. I had more to lose staying - my sanity - than I had by leaving.

What should you do before you quit?
Unless you have a really good plan or are old enough to retire, or rich enough to support yourself without working, move carefully. A bit of time thinking and breathing usually puts things into better perspective. Working with a career counselor can also help you see things from another perspective.

Start by assessing whether your current job is salvageable. A great strategy is to write out a proposal describing what you contribute and outlining what you need to stay. It is hard for managers caught up in the day-to-day grind to envision change if you don’t share your ideas.

I worked with a new grad who had been working for a river rafting company during high school and college. By the time he graduated from college, he had a really good handle on the company. When he landed in my office he thought he needed to get a “real job,” but he really liked the rafting business. He told me he would be happy to stay if the operation involved something more than just a tent, a bunch of rafts and a portable air compressor. He had ideas; I said, “write a proposal.” The owners loved the ideas and org chart he shared in his proposal – and they made him the VP of Operations – fresh out of college! He helped them create the “up'' in order for him to stay with the company. The company opened a store, began operating a shuttle, and started a white water rafting tour operation. He was able to stay in a job he loved and help the company grow. He eventually moved on to a new job but the career boost he got from the initiative he took was priceless!

I encouraged another person to hold off on quitting and to instead set rules for himself to deal with an 80-hour per week company culture. Just turning off his phone when he needed space and rest or out hiking on Saturdays made a huge difference. It took a few months, but he made the move to a company where maintaining a positive work/life balance was valued as part of the culture and he landed a higher salary and better benefits. Another big win: he was compensated stock options he was leaving on the table at the company he was leaving. He made the move thoughtfully, and not in a panic.

If you are going to jump ship, make sure to do a budget and figure out how long you can manage to stay afloat. This means figuring out what you spend and what you need to survive for up to 10 months. I like to be really conservative on that point, especially if you have obligations – family, house payments, kids in college or car payments, etc.

Once you have your focus set on the future and you have decided you want to leave, create a success timeline and a career plan. You need to think about how soon you would like to start a new job ... pick your target date and build a list of things you need to accomplish to reach your goal.

It is a relief to make a decision and to have a plan in place – it gives you a sense of seriousness and purpose. Positive is good, but making the decision to change jobs involves more than "just be positive." Making a career move requires action, and action requires setting goals, developing a plan and following through to a successful move.

Your professional contacts will be critical to your long term career success. They will be your job and grad school references and most likely your link to future jobs. Keep them accessible – LinkedIn is great but in some situations you need personal phone numbers and email. The reality is that most people change jobs every 3 to 5 years. So you need to be able to reach your people.

Send email to your colleagues. Go positive. Tell your colleagues and co-workers that it was a pleasure working with them, and update them on your plans, BUT ONLY AFTER you have accepted an offer and your new employer has confirmed.

Changing jobs can be scary but it can also be empowering.

Take a breath … You got this!